Psalm 103:1-2, 11-12, 19-20ab
The first reading and the Gospel are connected by references to the sufferings and martyrdom that both Paul and Peter will endure for the Gospel and for their Savior, Jesus Christ.
In the Gospel, the risen Jesus walks with Peter on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. It is a vivid image of what happens to us in prayer. We walk alongside of Jesus and listen to his word. In prayer we hear the same words that Peter heard: “Do you love me?” and we respond with humility, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you”. God always speaks first. Even when we think we first cry out to him and then he hears our voice, we need to realize that he was already there calling out our name, seeking us out as a good shepherd seeks his lost sheep.
The Gospel teaches us that Jesus, the Lamb of God, has introduced us, through our Baptism into his death and resurrection, into the sheepfold. We, who have come to believe in him, are now called “lambs”. As lambs, we will share in the sufferings of the Lamb.
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, now gives to others the power to be shepherds of his flock. Jesus turns to Peter, who had denied him three times and asks Peter for a triple affirmation of love. “The confession of love must precede the bestowing of authority; authority without love is tyranny” (F. J. Sheen, Life of Christ, Image Books, 427). Love is the condition of service. And Peter, “the man who had fallen most deeply and learned most thoroughly his own weakness was certainly the best qualified for strengthening the weak and feeding the lambs” (Sheen, Life of Christ, 427). Jesus gave the keys to Peter the Rock and makes him, before his ascension into heaven, the visible shepherd over the visible flock of the Church.
“Impulsive and self-willed though he was in the days of his youth, yet in his old age Peter would glorify the Master by a death on the Cross. From Pentecost on, Peter was led where he would not go. He was obliged to leave the Holy City, where imprisonment and the sword awaited him. Next he was led by His Divine Master to Samaria and into the house of the Gentile, Cornelius” (Sheen, Life of Christ, 429). Peter was then led to Rome, where he would be bound and nailed on a cross.
Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen comments: “Thus the man who was always tempting the Lord away from the Cross was the first of the Apostles to go to it. The Cross that he embraced redounded to the glory of his Savior more than all the zeal and impetuosity of his youth. When Peter did not understand that the Cross implied Redemption from sin, he put his own death before that of the Master, saying that though all others would fail to defend Him, he would not. Now Peter saw that it was only in the light of the Cross of Calvary that the Cross he would embrace had meaning and significance (Sheen, Life of Christ, 429).
The Acts of the Apostles concludes with the story of Paul’s imprisonment in Caesarea and his journey to Rome, where he, like Peter, will be martyred. In order to protect him from assassins, Paul is led from Jerusalem by a force of four hundred and seventy soldiers and horsemen to Felix, the governor at Caesarea. Claudius Lysias explains in a letter that the controversy between Paul and the Jews concerns questions of their law and does not involve any charge deserving death or imprisonment. Felix hears the case of Paul presented by Ananias, the high-priest, and Tertullus. Their accusation is that Paul tried to desecrate the temple – possibly because they thought Paul introduced Gentiles into the court of Israel.
Instead of deciding Paul’s case, Felix hopes for a bribe from Paul’s friends and leaves Paul in jail for two years (58-59AD). When Felix was replaced in 59AD, the new governor Festus brings Paul in and asks whether or not he will stand trial in Jerusalem. Paul knows that he will not receive a fair trial in Jerusalem and appeals his case to Caesar. Paul understands this as the will of God, knowing that he is called to preach the Gospel in Rome. All of these things happened before the arrival of King Herod Agrippa and Bernice to Caesarea. Today’s first reading, then, is a summary discussion of Paul’s case and what has happened to Paul.
We can learn from Peter and Paul the need to allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit. Jesus promises us, as his lambs, that we will suffer with him and for him. Our suffering, united to the passion of Christ, has a redemptive value. Each time we pray and open our hearts to God, we are telling him that we love him and that we will follow his Son on the humble path to the Cross and to the glory of the Resurrection.
Readers may contact Father Jason Mitchell at [email protected].